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Op-Ed: Perfect Storm of Ralston Gridlock

Belmont resident Ron Tussy witnessed an in-service Belmont fire truck, sirens blaring, becoming tangled in morning traffic on Ralston Avenue while trying to respond to an emergency on Thursday morning.

Perfect Storm of Ralston Gridlock: Ciprianni Station Engine 15 Gets Held Up in Ralston Middle School Traffic for 5 Minutes During Possible Code 3

One looming issue the controversial CSUS proposal has brought to light is the traffic density centered around Ralston Middle School and Davis Drive. This morning I witnessed a worst-case scenario after dropping my son off at Ralston Middle School. It was exactly 8:10 AM.

Engine number 15 was responding to what appeared to be a code 3 event, lights going, siren howling, horn honking. Traffic was gridlocked between Ciprianni and Davis, but #15 driver  managed to weave in and out of the cars going uphill, some drivers pulling to the right, others not moving at all until engine 15 got to Davis Drive, horn blasting. I was heading eastbound downhill between the school and Davis Drive, number 15 headed westbound. I pulled over to the far right because I thought there was a chance #15 driver would see what was in front of him and opt to jump across into head-on, stopped traffic. 

In front of engine 15 lie 4 municipal buses and approximately 50 gridlocked cars. Most car drivers elected not to move as they were approaching or in the left turn lane into Ralston School and did not want to risk their kids being late or just couldn’t move. The buses, with no room to maneuver, due to the gridlock, turned the noses of their buses from the far left lane to the far right lane, but this left the rear of their buses impeding the left lane and #15 couldn’t get by, and just sat there.

The driver of #15 eventually stopped honking as he realized there was nowhere for the buses or cars to go and sat for minutes behind this gridlock. I sat for at least three minutes in my lane watching before I had to move. I estimate it was at least 5 minutes total for this engine to go from Ciprianni to just above Davis Drive.  I do not know how long #15 sat behind the gridlock.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but putting this situation in a realistic scenario that first responders have to deal with daily, that I have also witnessed first-hand, can be a dire situation. Let’s say, your older relative lives off Hallmark. He is having a cardiac event, his heart has stopped pumping oxygen to his organs. He is unconscious and clinically dead until a first responder such as #15 arrives and defibrillates him (shocks his heart to pump again). Until then, his brain is not getting oxygen. Seconds are ticking by.

According to the American Heart Association's scientific position, brain death and permanent death start to occur in 4–6 minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can be reversible if treated within a few minutes with an electric shock and ALS intervention to restore a normal heartbeat. Verifying this standard are studies showing that a victim's chances of survival are reduced by 7%–10% with every minute that passes without defibrillation and advanced life support intervention. Few attempts at resuscitation succeed after 10 minutes.

Also, sighting a scientific paper published in 2005, entitled: Paramedic Response Time: Does It Affect Patient Survival, a survival benefit was identified when the response time was within 4 minutes.

In the mean time, #15 is stuck behind stacked up buses and cars at Ralston Middle School. This can and has happened and first responders are not to blame for the outcome.

A older gentleman at the Belmont City Council open forum described this scenario almost exactly and tried to warn the Belmont City Council that this scenario could and probable would happen on Ralston Ave. at that location. According to EMSWorld, an online journal for first responders, “Most California communities have established standards of eight minutes or less 90% of the time for ALS service”.

I do not know the outcome of today’s response by #15 but I hope it had a good outcome. For the past 2 months, this scenario has been a fictional scenario presented to the Belmont City Council. Today, I learned it is real and because I personally have some skin in this game, I want something to be done about before it negatively impacts someone’s loved one.


Ron Tussy

Paul B. October 26, 2012 at 08:48 PM
This situation could also exst on Alameda de las Pulgas if 15 or an Engine Co. was needed to back up 15's district, fro San Carlos, at 8-9:00 AM, thanks to the removal of the passing left turn lane for more diagonal parking to appease the residents around Carlmont HighSchool, might these be the same ones who complained of the Field Lighting?
Mike P. October 27, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Maybe someday [but don't hold your breath waiting] the Belmont City Council will get off its tail and realize that Ralston needs TWO MORE LANES to avoid problems like this and also make it possible to do some reasonable development along the route.


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